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Arts, Sports & Culture

Charges Against Nude 'Pope Girl' Dropped

The indecent exposure charges against two Carnegie Mellon University students have been dropped in exchange for 80 hours of community service apiece over the next 4 months.

A preliminary hearing was scheduled for today for 19 year old Katherine O'Connor and 22 year old Robb Godshaw, but an agreement was reached among the District Attorney's office, CMU and the students. 

On April 18,  O’Connor and Godshaw participated in the Ant-Gravity Downhill Derby, an annual art even hosted by CMU. In a performance art piece bringing light to the pedophilia scandals rocking the Catholic Church, O’Connor dressed as the Pope from the waist up and was nude from the waist down; her pubic hair trimmed into the shape of a cross.

Vic Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said this type of artistic expression was something the students had come to expect.

“What folks should understand is that this was a CMU sponsored art show on the campus,” Walczak said. “It’s one where nudity had been occurring for the past three events.”

It was announced at the event that people may want to cover their eyes. Police at the event told O’Connor to put her pants on, which she did, but did not charge her with any crime.  Godshaw disrobed during the parade.

Charges were filed on May 10 by university police after Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik condemned the performance.

If convicted of indecent exposure, the students could have been placed on sex offender registries in some states.

Politics, controversy and nudity are “part of the art world,” according to Walczak, who believes O'Connor's rights were under attack.

Walczak said CMU needs to be more consistent when it comes to the punishment of their students.

“It’s really unfair to the students for one arm of the university to be telling them that what they’re doing is okay and then another arm of the university saying no and bringing these criminal charges,” Walczak said.

O’Connor’s performance was approved by her advisor prior to the parade. University President Jared Cohon had apologized, saying the school encourages artistic expression but acknowledges public nudity is illegal. 

If O'Connor and Godshaw complete their community service by October 21, the charges will formally be dismissed by a city magistrate.  A diocesan spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment on the deal.